Packers' offensive line displays versatility after injury sidelines tackle Rick Wagner
GREEN BAY - For any other offensive line, Green Bay Packers right tackle Rick Wagner’s departure because of a knee injury in Sunday night’s second half might have been a problem.
Wagner earned a start against the Tennessee Titans because of how well he has played in recent weeks. The Packers' offense was clicking again with him on the field, and Green Bay led 26-14 midway through the third quarter.
Wagner’s departure meant more offensive-line maneuvering. Billy Turner slid from right guard to right tackle. Lucas Patrick, who had started the previous 14 games but was a backup Sunday night for Wagner, came off the sideline to play right guard. It was a wholesale change to one side of the line, but the Packers' offense didn’t miss a beat.
Not only did the Packers finish the drive with a touchdown, but running back AJ Dillon ran for the 30-yard score on fourth-and-1 from the remade right side. The Packers added another touchdown on a Dillon run in the fourth quarter.
It’s been that way all season for a Packers' offensive line that has overcome injuries since the opener in Minnesota. One guy goes down, another takes his place. The same quality of play remains.
From three starting-caliber running backs, to a receiving core that features perhaps the league’s best player at his position, a tight end with double-digit touchdowns, and arguably the best big-play threat in the league, the Packers' offense has more depth than it knows what to do with.
The offensive line is no different.
“It’s awesome to know that you’ve got multiple people that can go in there and get the job done,” LaFleur said. “I would say the versatility of our line alone is a huge luxury. I know for myself personally, I’ve never been a part of a team that has that much versatility on the offensive line, where you can move guys from guard to tackle, or from guard to tackle to center. It’s just pretty impressive.”
It’s unclear how long Wagner will be out. LaFleur indicated the veteran right tackle’s knee injury is not expected to be serious, but said he was still waiting for more details from head athletic trainer Bryan Engel on Monday afternoon.
“I believe Rick is going to be OK,” LaFleur said, “but I think we’ve got to take some time to get all the information.”
Rodgers not perfect
When Aaron Rodgers returned to the sideline after throwing one of the worst interceptions in recent memory, he had the voice of his first quarterbacks coach with the Packers coursing through his mind.
The interception Rodgers threw in the second half was uncharacteristic, because all of Rodgers' interceptions are uncharacteristic. He has thrown only five this season, just 11 since the start of 2018, and hasn’t had a season with double-digit interceptions in a decade.
But many of Rodgers’ interceptions are bad luck, or a defensive back read a play well and makes a good break on a route. Tampa Bay’s Jamel Dean made a good break on a Rodgers pass intended for Davante Adams, returning it for a touchdown.
Rodgers’ interception Sunday night was something different. The quarterback rolled right on third-and-11, carrying the football near the sideline. Then he threw a pass to the middle of the field, targeting Adams. It was the type of “QB mortal sin” longtime Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements used to grill Rodgers on not doing early in his career.
“All I was thinking about,” Rodgers said, “was Tom Clements’ voice in my head going, ‘Late, down the middle.’ One of the QB mortal sins that I broke.”
Rodgers completed 21 of 25 passes for 231 yards, four touchdowns and a 128.1 rating against the Titans, continuing his march toward a potential third MVP. It’s the one play he made but shouldn’t that he remembered most vividly after the game.
“That’s just how I am,” Rodgers said.
Empty Lambeau for playoffs
The Packers clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs if they beat the Chicago Bears or the Seattle Seahawks lose to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, but they won't get the full benefit.
LaFleur indicated Monday it is unlikely the Packers will host more than the few hundred fans they have in recent home games.
"Certainly if you're asking me," LaFleur said, "I'd like to have that thing filled. But obviously there's a pandemic going on, and certainly we don't want to jeopardize anybody's safety. So I think that, first and foremost, you're always gonna be very conscious of making sure that everybody can come into the stadium and be safe. We never would want to jeopardize the health of even one person. That's just too many.
"So I think our guys are doing it the right way and I know Mark (Murphy) has been talking to the doctors and making sure that we can operate in a safe manner.
A week earlier against Carolina, LaFleur and his staff thought some of the run-pass options they have in the offense led to quarterback Aaron Rodgers forcing the ball to receiver Davante Adams when they probably should have been giving it to running back Aaron Jones.
You’d be hard-pressed to say they did the same thing against the Titans, given the Packers ran for 234 yards.
But some of those “run alerts,” as LaFleur refers to them – the ability of Rodgers to give up on a run play and throw it to Adams – were quite successful. It seems as though they found a happy medium Sunday.
“Certainly, the defense can fool you whether they’re giving you a look where you think you’re going to have to use it and then they back out of it at the last second and there’s a guy right there to meet him (Adams),” LaFleur said. “I would say the majority of the time he (Rodgers) has done an outstanding job with that, managing those situations.
“Shoot, we threw two touchdown passes last night on run alerts. That doesn’t happen very often.”
The first was a quick flip to Adams with the cornerback playing way off that he he ran in for the Packers’ first score. The other was the fade route into the corner of the end zone that Rodgers threw in the second quarter when he saw the cornerback was playing tight coverage.